Medical, legal and lay understandings of physical evidence in rape cases (Evidently Rape) – a summary

EVIDENTLY RAPE examines how physical evidence matters and can be a factor in how medical and criminal justice institutions approach the crime of rape.

EVIDENTLY RAPE builds on the starting assumption that the production of medical and legal facts is co-constitutive. Law and policing practices influence what physical evidence is harvested for testing and how it is harvested; medical expertise and methodologies then transform evidence into medical and forensic facts to be applied in the investigation and prosecution of crime.

Researching the interface between medical knowledge and societal use of that knowledge

EVIDENTLY RAPE addresses the interface between medical knowledge and societal use of that knowledge, with a particular emphasis on the role of forensic knowledge in the criminal justice process.

Little knowledge about this interaction exists between law and the criminal justice process and between medical knowledge and the role of forensic evidence. The criminal justice process today is made difficult by a lack of physical evidence or lack of understanding of what the evidence demonstrates. An investigation of these gaps will answer a need for more knowledge about the translation and use of medical knowledge to end-users and the treatment of rape and rape victims in the criminal justice process.

EVIDENTLY RAPE will use Norway as a case, but because proving that a rape has occurred is a shared challenge, the findings will have ramifications globally.

From the scene of the crime to the court ruling

EVIDENTLY RAPE will achieve its aims by studying how physical evidence is harvested, selected, tested, communicated and applied throughout the criminal justice process in cases of rape.

The communication of medical knowledge and its margin of error to the police, lawyers and legal and lay judges creates numerous challenges in the process of collecting physical evidence – from the scene of the crime and the body of the reported victim to the end result, in terms of attrition, conviction or acquittal. EVIDENTLY RAPE is designed to generate more knowledge about this process as a form of knowledge production that necessitates the translation of various forms of knowledge.

Physical evidence is included in the criminal justice process in cases of rape in two ways:

(1) as medical reports written up by medical staff at rape-reception centres (for example), based on an examination of patients; and

(2) in the form of forensic and toxicological testing and reporting based on biological material collected by police and medical staff. The medical and forensic reports are used during police investigations, by police lawyers when deciding whether to prosecute, by lawyers in preparing the case, and by lay and legal judges in the adjudication of cases in court.

The project will investigate this process looking particularly at the interaction between legal and medical knowledge.

Project design

EVIDENTLY RAPE will contribute with a specialised analysis of what happens along every step of the way from the scene of the crime to court, and, taken together, investigate the process as a whole with the travel, translation and transformation of physical evidence the process entails.

To achieve this, the project involves four sub-projects that, in different and complementary ways, will illustrate the harvesting, interpretation, communication and adjudication of physical evidence in cases of rape.

These sub-projects will be executed by a PhD scholar in law, a PhD scholar in forensic medicine, a postdoctoral scholar in health and society, and a postdoctoral scholar in the sociology of law. These project participants will be supported by six UiO scholars and six external partners who will perform complementary research..

The project includes four UiO research milieus: the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, the Department of Public and International Law, the Institute of Health and Society, and the Institute for Forensic Medicine.

The project will be headed by professor May-Len Skilbrei at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law.

Published Aug. 26, 2019 9:16 AM - Last modified Sep. 16, 2019 2:57 PM